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Socialism — what is it?

11 February 2009

Like many other political words, “socialism” is tossed around loosely, by many people who have only a very vague idea of what it means.

Hillaire Belloc does a good job of clarifying things in The ChesterBelloc Mandate: An Examination of Socialism Part I:

A Socialistic State need be neither more democratic nor less democratic than the present state of affairs. A State in which all the means of production were owned by the Government might be under a despot or under an aristocracy, or it might be managed as a democracy. However it was managed it would be a Socialistic State if the means of production were owned and controlled by Government.

It’s definitely worth a read, though I have one quibble with it. At least in the first part quoted above, Belloc describes state socialism, and appears to allow for nothing in between statism on the one hand and neoliberalism on the other.

Belloc certainly clears up a lot of misconceptions about state socialism, but seems to omit one important misconception — that state socialism is the only possible form of socialism. Perhaps he will deal with that in part 2 of the article.

State socialism is not the only form of socialism. There is also private enterprise socialism: cooperatives, building societies, mutual insurance societies, medical aids before they were privatised and so on. And there is the kind of communitarianism propagated by people like Dorothy Day. Perhaps Belloc maintains that that is communitarian rather than socialist; it will be interesting to see if he says anything about it in Part II.

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